Is Kristen Wiig the most daring actress in Hollywood? After having been an all-star utility player on “Saturday Night Live” for 9 years and the massive success of “Bridesmaids” she could have written her own ticket. She could have reteamed with Melissa McCarthy to make the expected follow-up to “Bridesmaids,” or even played a Marvel superhero. She could have paired off with Will Ferrell and made big budget big screen comedies or elbowed Sandra Bullock out of the way and starred in “The Heat.”
Instead she has kept a low profile, making challenging, quirky films that mix mirth with melancholy and are unlikely to gross even “Bridesmaids’s” catering cost.
She returns as Alice Klieg in “Welcome to Me,” a dark comedy about a woman with Borderline Personality Disorder and a dream of being on television. Divorced, she lives in a small apartment, sleeping in a sleeping bag on top of the bed, in front of a television that hasn’t been turned off in eleven years.
She mouths along with Oprah reruns and dreams, one day, of sharing herself and her ideas with the world. Her dream becomes a possibility when she wins an $87 million lottery. Using the facilities of a failing TV infomercial studio run by Gabe (Wes Bentley) and Rich (James Marsden), she buys herself a show unlike anything that has ever been seen on TV. Titled “Welcome to Me,” it’s a puzzling glimpse into her life. “Today I woke up and there was a public hair on my pillow shaped like a question mark,” she says introducing a segment called Unanswered Questions. For a week straight she neuters dogs live on air. The show, which airs so high on the dial it’s just above the Alien Channel, becomes a mini sensation with people tuning in to see the unusual mix of tortured revelations and performance art. One student credits her with the invention of “the narrative infomercial.”
As the show gains in popularity Alice’s ego bloats but success doesn’t make her happy, and eventually she is stripped bare, both emotionally and physically.
Brave, dynamic work like this separates Wiig from the pack. In a high wire performance she balances playing someone dealing with severe mental health issues while earning laughs along the way. It’s tough to do, but in what is her best work yet she rides the line, never backing off the tough stuff but also frequently taking a sideways step toward the laughs.
Other characters aren’t given as much of a chance to shine–Jennifer Jason Leigh as the show’s designer is cut adrift but Joan Cusack makes the best of an underwritten role as the show’s director—but as Alice’s best friend Linda Cardinelli is equal parts warmth and frustration, and perfect in the role.
“Welcome to Me” is a nervy and showcase for Wiig.